California Memories,  Living Between the Lines

Head for the Hills! Meeting Grandma

More from my lone Californian Trip of 1997:

Part one – the computer store

There is one thing I forgot to mention about my new friend Annie. Since inviting me to stay, she has become aware of a problem with her hip. She assures me she can walk. She just can’t walk long distances. She doesn’t see this as an issue and refused to let me delay my trip just because of it.

I first realised it may actually be a real issue a day or two ago when we paid a visit to a local computer store.

Annie jumped out of the Van and headed off towards the entrance. Getting closer, she spotted a bevy of wheelchairs right next to the trollies.

“Aha! I’ll have one of those,” she declared.

I watched as she secured one and proceeded to sit in it. I waited. She waited. Then I realised that she expected me to push her. Reluctantly, I guided her into the store. Feeling rather self conscious and hoping no one had seen her stride up to the chair in the first place, I pushed her into the first aisle.

“No, no, that way, that way!” she boomed.

I pushed her into the second aisle.

“Over there…get me over there…” she ordered.

I wheeled her where she wanted to go.

Like a child on a playground ride, she ordered me hither and thither until I am afraid to say I completely lost it.

“Wheel yourself!” I told her.

With a pout she managed to do just that. These wheel chairs were designed for self steering in any case. She then proceeded to whizz up and down every aisle paying no heed to the other shoppers falling by the wayside.

Embarrassed beyond belief I headed for the exit and waited for her there.


Part two – Meeting Grandma

Today we are going to visit ‘Grandma’.

Me meeting Grandma is very important to my friend who is very close to the latter. I don’t know what to expect. This is her Mom’s mother after all. Will she share the doll obsession? I hope not.

Having finally emerged from her trailer at 11.15 a.m. this morning, Annie finds me in the garden and excitedly reports that we will be leaving in half an hour. I am ready in ten minutes. One  hour and fifteen minutes go by.

Finally, Annie is ready. Her hair is even more wild this morning and she tames it by clamping the straw hat firmly on her head and donning a pair of sun glasses.

Have I mentioned what happened to Annie’s hair? Well, it appears that her mother, with whom she is staying if you recall, decided her daughter should smarten herself up for my visit. She recommended a local hairdresser training college who were looking for ‘models’. Annie’s straight, wispy mousey hair was not looking its best. Off went Annie for a ‘light perm’. Back came Annie with a frizzy mop of peroxide curls. The curls fell out by morning leaving just the frizz.

“It’ll grow out,” Annie shrugs, pulling the hat more firmly onto her head. The frizz sticks out at right angles either side of the hat.

“It looks fine,” I say.

“Let’s Roll!” she grins.

Now something else I should mention about Annie is that she has a very deep voice. I am put in mind of the actress Elaine Stritch who has been described as having ‘a deep, whiskey voice’, whenever I hear her speak. Annie’s mother has a high pitched nasal twang, not at all the same. I am curious to know who she inherited the deep, gruff voice from.

It doesn’t seem to cause her any problems until we stop at a drive-through MacDonalds. With limited access to food on the road, we have opted for MacDonalds more than once despite my normal aversion to the place. I am no longer surprised when Annie leans towards the grill in the wall and barks,

“Two double cheeseburger and chips, with two cokes to go please,”

I wait for the inevitable response,

“Thank you Sir, be right with you.”

Quickly followed by Annie’s outraged  reply.

“I am not a ‘Sir!”

Her rasping shriek makes the poor boy or girl closeted behind the grill, quake in their boots,

“Oh, sorry Sir um Madam,” they stammer.

Did Elaine Stritch ever have this trouble?

I have to admit that at some point during our acquaintance, hearing this same conversation several times, I do begin to wonder whether Annie has told me everything about herself. I have taken her at face value but by her own admission, she hasn’t told me absolutely everything about her past and has led a wild life. A person’s imagination can run riot. There is also a lot I have probably omitted to tell you about her that will emerge as we travel.

For the moment, I do not speculate. We accept each other ‘as is’ – it is an unwritten rule.

We enjoy the scenery as we head towards Sacremento.  

Annie’s Grandmother lives in a trailer I am told. Annie refers to her own home as a trailer. I liken Annie’s temporary home to a smaller version of the holiday caravan we had when the children were young. I hope that Grandma’s  trailer is in better shape.

The trailer park is pretty and neat and full of Spring flowers. Grandma’s Trailer sits somewhere in the middle with a little fenced garden around it. It has a covered porch on which sits a swing seat and all in all looks very inviting. We park the VW and fall out. This is a constant problem for me, being quite small. I practically have to throw myself out of the door each time. There is no step.

Annie knocks on the trailer door and her Grandma opens it. Grandma walks with a frame and it takes some time for her to manoeuvre herself back into the trailer so that we can follow.

“Come on in, make yourself at home!” she invites. I like her. She is small and quite frail but has a twinkle in her eye. She also has the most extraordinarily deep voice. So perhaps that answers that question then.

Grandma has her white hair set in a neat perm. She is wearing dark trousers and a white T-shirt bearing a colourful motif, topped off with a peach coloured cardigan.

“What you done with your hair?” she frowns as Annie removes her hat and the frizz explodes like billowing curtains of tumbleweed, either side of her face.

“Looks terr’ble”

I feel for Annie but she just laughs and asks Grandma how she’s keeping.

“I’m fine. Your Mom fusses but I’m fine. Have the home help and the nurse come in every day. Can’t get about like I want to but ain’t gonna use that wheelchair they’ve given me. No way!” she grips the walker more firmly and her tone brooks no argument.

The trailer is light and airy and there are no dolls in sight I am pleased to note.

“How’s your hip? Your Mom says you got a bad hip,” Grandma asks. Annie shrugs,

“Oh it’s ok, painful but ok.”

Grandma nods knowingly. Then a bright idea must slip into her mind because, with a twinkle in her eye she says,

“You can take my wheelchair back with you if you like. Might help. I got no use for it!”

Annie considers this offer for all of thirty seconds and then jumps at the chance.

“That’ll be a real help,” she smiles.

I am a little concerned. It seems obvious to me that Grandma is trying to off-load the unwanted wheelchair and having apparently done so is looking triumphant. What will ‘Mom’ say? How can Annie just swan off with an old lady’s only means of transport?

I am also concerned about my role with the wheelchair – who will push it? Will she be using it a lot? Have I swapped children’s prams for this? The experience in the computer store comes back to haunt me.

Annie goes to check out the wheelchair. Grandma sits on the sofa and shows me some crocheted items she has ‘saved for me’. I am touched.

“You better smarten yerself up Annie!” she says as my friend comes back into the room, having inspected the wheelchair and found it to be perfect.

“He needs to look at that hair!” Grandma tells me.

He? I am confused.

“He looks as though he’s been pulled a hedge backwards!” she declares.

Annie laughs and through the banter I am struck by the number of times Grandma refers to Annie as ‘He’.  Is this a Californian thing?

Grandma insists that we stay the night though there is only one spare room with a double bed. I feel a little awkward, not least because the ‘he’ business has roused my curiosity again. Annie has the bed. I sleep on the floor on a number of sofa cushions.

I do not sleep well. Annie snores rather loudly.

In the morning I feel bad for even wondering about my friend and my concerns seem silly in the light of day. Annie, unaware of my discomfort the previous night, decides she will wear an outfit she declares to be Grandma’s favourite.

Thus we walk into the kitchen for breakfast, me in very British attire – denim shorts and cotton top and Annie in her pink hot pants.

”Doesn’t he look a picture?” Grandma smiles when she sees Annie in the now infamous pink creation. There are other words I could use to describe Annie at this moment but ‘a picture’ about covers it.

We were offered a  light breakfast – oh, that’s the other thing I forgot to mention about Annie, she has no teeth. Well, she used to have teeth but lost them. She then had a false set but lost those. The dentist who fitted them has since died and…she really prefers being toothless or so she says.

The first time I noticed the absence of teeth came when we stopped at a diner for breakfast. I was horrified by the sucking sounds emanating from Annie’s mouth as she mashed her gums together. She remained oblivious  to my disgust of course and slurped and sucked her way through scrambled eggs, toast and pancakes without so much as an ‘excuse me’.

A better person than I would have been able to ignore the eating impediment and would not even mention it here. However, it is so much a part of the trip that I simply cannot ignore it.

Half way through breakfast Grandma barks,

“For God’s sake, get your damn teeth done Annie!” (I am not the only one then).

We are packed up and ready to go. The wheelchair has been stowed in the back of the van and I am hoping that Annie will neither need it nor really want to use it.

“Don’t forget your present,” Grandma tells me. I thank her again and assure her I have packed the little crocheted items in my case.

“I have something for your little girl…the youngest one,” she adds and turning, reaches into a drawer and pulls out … a doll.

I don’t jump. I am fine. It is only a doll.

Closer inspection reveals that it is indeed only a doll, a very pretty baby doll for which Grandma has crocheted an entire outfit including a fetching bonnet. I thank her, for it is a very kind thought and I shall tell my youngest daughter that, when I give it to her, even though she is almost thirteen.

We leave Grandma behind, waving us off with one hand, the other resting on her walker, as we chug out of the park.

“That wheel chair will be real handy,” Annie observes as we leave.

I have but one thought in mind as we set off on our next adventure,

“Head for the hills!”

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Andrea Carlisle

    This really is turning into an interesting saga–the sensible, curious, polite and accommodating (to a point) English woman and the wild-haired, self-centered Californian in pink hot pants who expects to be pampered by her guest. I’m beginning to suspect, as I think you want us to, that Annie is transgender, in which case my heart goes out to her more than I think it would if she had been born a woman.
    I loved this: “I don’t jump. I am fine. It is only a doll.”
    I’m right with you on this trip, Deborah, and looking forward to the next installment.

  • Katie Gates

    This is wild! You know, of course, that there are “normal” Californians? Seriously, Annie is quite a character, and I must say, I would have headed for the hills early on, but… since you didn’t, you’re providing many of us with a captivating story, and I can’t wait to read the next installment!

  • Deborah Barker

    Ha ha, yes, I did meet many perfectly normal Cailfornians on my trip but oddly enough, it is the characters who are larger than life that one remembers. Maybe they all remember me in the same way! Sobering thought.

  • Patricia

    Oh this has me in stitches…so happy the power is on tonight and I can catch up on folks writing…this was a grand spot to start at…oh yes write the whole story!

    I do think Californians are a bit dizzy to say the least and I wish they would hate our rain more and not move in and want everything as crazy as it is in CA…

    Did I catch Katie’s funny bone?

    Good stuff here.

  • gailwrite

    Nipped along here after you gave such lovely comments for CC on YWO – thank you, you made my day/week.

    I think you missed a trick with the wheelchair. I’d have seen it more as a challenge – I’m sure you could have out-embarrassed her if you’d put some effort in. Next time grab a wheelchair of your own and the next passing, passable young man to push you.

  • Deb

    As you reveal more and more of Annie to us, I’m wondering why on earth you didn’t turn around and take the first plane back home. He/she is a hoot and a half. But then so is your writing. And because I’ve been away for a bit, I have another story to get to now. Lucky me.

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